Importance of the Sustainable Development Goals for older people

Older couple with grandson

This post was contributed by Kate Horstead, Policy and Influencing Officer, at our sister charity Age International

2015 has been a landmark year for international development and for older people globally. The Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious framework agreed by and for all countries, has been adopted and will set the scene for policies and programmes around the world. Unlike its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, Agenda 2030 recognises ageing and older people as an integral part of international development plans.

This is potentially a game-changer for older people globally, who currently face obstacles to claiming their rights to essential healthcare and social protection, to continue learning and working, to participate fully in cultural, social and political life, and to be protected from abuse and violence. For too long the needs of older people have been neglected, side-lined or ignored by international development policy makers. But in the SDGs, governments have made an over-arching pledge to ‘leave no-one behind’. To disregard people once they reach later life would be to undermine this all important commitment.

The SDG framework’s 17 goals and 169 targets outline expectations that improvements can be made in older people’s lives – in healthcare, nutrition, transport, and gender equality – no matter where they live. The SDGs apply equally to all countries, including the UK, and not just to developing countries.

In many areas, the language of the SDGs is strong, for example, ‘No goal will be considered met unless it is met for all social groups’. By necessity, this must include older people. Both in the goals and in the targets, there are many explicit references to women and men ‘of all ages’, in relation to health, nutrition, education, and to tackling poverty. Older people are also included implicitly in many more.

There is a solid commitment to monitoring the goals’ progress using better data than has previously been collected, data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographical location and other relevant characteristics.

We celebrate the potential of this framework, but we must not lose sight of the fact that much more needs to be done. Some of the suggested indicators for measuring the targets have the potential to discriminate against older people, for example only measuring violence against women until the age of 49, as if violence against older women isn’t worth measuring. UN Women agrees with us that this is unacceptable and has recommended that this discriminatory age limit be removed.

And while the indicators are being finalised, our biggest challenge is to ensure the SDGs are taken seriously, including by the UK government, and that its policies and programmes reflect the framework’s admirable aims. Countries which have invested so much in creating the SDGs must now focus on making the rhetoric a reality, for the sake of people at every stage of their lives.

Find out more about the importance of the global context for ageing policy in our Agenda for Later Life 2015 report, Age UK’s annual assessment of how public policy is meeting the needs of older people.






Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

2 thoughts on “Importance of the Sustainable Development Goals for older people”

  1. Very interesting post. You may want to look at what’s happening in Wales with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which makes Sustainable Development the central organising principle for public services in Wales. We’ll be auditing how public services work to the act. Further info is available on the Welsh Government website, should it be of interest –



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s